“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” said Donald Trump in his inaugural address as president in January 2017. “From this moment on, it’s going to be America first.”
“America First” is nothing new. It is in fact a sentiment that almost every president in my lifetime – since Ronald Reagan – has believed in. What’s more, when applied correctly, America first recognises the United States’ global responsibility in helping maintain peace and prosperity.
But it does not mean isolationism.
Since his election, Trump has pursued a range of foreign policy decisions which can at best be described as questionable and at worst have challenged the integrity of financial institutions and crucially, global peace and stability. This is not America first.
By becoming entangled in trade wars with China, Trump has caused economic turmoil in global markets, putting US jobs and livelihoods at risk.
By pulling out of Syria, he has endangered the lives of Kurds helping to maintain safety and security in the region – and by extension the US.
And by withdrawing from the nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the President has given Vladimir Putin the legal ability to put land-based nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, which will most likely be in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. An outcome far more likely given his abandonment of Ukraine based on his predilection for unfounded conspiracy theories and quid-pro-quo ultimatums.
This is not America first.
The withdrawal of America from the global stage – be it on foreign policy or climate issues – has only served to make the country vulnerable. And when the US is vulnerable, the values we seek to extol when needed – freedom, liberty and democracy – become threatened.
America first can only be achieved by working with world leaders and building a consensus, not by driving alone on the road of decency, democracy and freedom. And it can only be achieved with a strong and united country capable of holding bad actors, like Putin, accountable; not a weak and polarised nation devoid of influence.
Of course, these existential questions form the key thinking of any president – Republican or Democrat – but what makes the current US president so threatening to global stability is his lack of clarity on what he truly stands for – with exception of himself.
There’s no rhyme or reason to what he does. I strongly believe he is the first president in my political lifetime who continually puts his own interests ahead of our great nation’s – and this is a grave threat to global peace.
For someone like me who’s been in politics both domestically and internationally for over 30 years, Trump’s foreign policy lacks clarity, empathy, and sensibility. Using the phrase “America first” in the way he does is devoid of any consistent comprehensive definition.
He promised to destroy ISIS while at the same time pull troops out of Syria. The capture and killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last month was in spite of his muddled leadership, not because of it.
He also sought to curb illegal immigration by building a 2,000-mile-long wall and promised blue collar workers in the mid-west he would bring manufacturing jobs back to their communities.
Whether it was these policies that elevated him to the White House – albeit despite losing the popular vote – is up for debate. But three years on, having vowed to “make America great again” (another slogan liberated from Reagan) it remains to be seen quite what Trump stands for.
Failing any discernible political agenda, at the very least, it is the responsibility of the American president to guarantee the safety and security of America and her people. Trump’s actions and inactions have done little to make the world safer – and in reality has had the opposite effect.
This is the message I delivered to the RISING Global Peace Forum in Coventry and one I repeat today ahead of the president’s visit to the UK.
It is clear to me that by confusing “America first” with “everybody else last”, Trump has followed a course which risks the peace and stability of the world, and from which he must retreat immediately.
Dane Waters is a former presidential advisor and the founder of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.